Christians use Lent, the 40 days prior to Easter, as a time of self-reflection, self-denial, penitence and prayer. Muslims use Ramadan for a month-long time of self-restraint and day-time fasting. Jews use Yom Kippur as a day of fasting where one is to reflect on one’s life. Socrates said “the unexamined life is not worth living”. In Buddhism, such moment by moment intentionality is an attempted daily practice.
Intentionality is difficult, however. We are largely habitual creatures, living to our dying days riding the juggernaut of our own indomitable habits. But many cultures have realized a trick to sidetrack the juggernaut — abstaining. They realized that to gain insight into life and influence the locomotive of our habits, we only have to intentionally stop a particular habit or two. That mere effort of will helps reveal how driven we are and gives us precious moments to reflect and perchance steer a bit more to the left or the right, if not outright change our life’s direction.
My Christian blogging buddy, Luke at “Toothface”, is giving up soda for Lent. I am not a Christian, but to capitalize on the benefits of denial, and as a gesture to Christian friends like Luke, and to acknowledge that religions do capture valuable truths, for Lent I am giving up “Stats”. For 40 days I will not check my blog’s “Stats” page to see how many and who are viewing my blog. As many bloggers know, the Stat-checking habit can become very addictive.
When we abstain from something with the intent of self-reflection it is surprising how many times during a day one feels the pull of the locomotive of habit. There will probably be many opportunities to stop ourselves and reflect when giving up something even as simple as soda or stats. Being an atheist, though, there will be no notion of self-punishment or repentance in my practice but instead, I am practicing so as to taste life more fully and more intentionally. I think Luke’s intentions are similar.
Questions for Readers:
- For atheists: Do you consider this a sell-out to use religious terms and holidays? Do you feel it re-enforces all the things in religion that you dislike? For those who used to be religious, do you ever feel like you threw the baby out with the wash?
- For theists: What do you feel about an Atheist using your tradition’s holiday? How do you wrestle with non-believers grasping deeper truths that you too hold albeit wrapped in your tradition?